It’s 10 o’clock and the party’s barely even started, but every minute of this conversation feels like another hour, and I fear that if I don’t get out of here soon, the hours will turn into days and then years and I’ll die of old age still stuck in this conversation.
I came to this party to reconnect with an old friend, but he didn’t show, and now I’m stuck here talking to Dan instead. How do you ghost someone who’s always around and finds all your not-so-subtle hints much too well hidden?
“Hey,” I say, cutting off whatever it was he was saying. “Sorry, but I better get going.”
“Get going?” Dan asks. “You’ve barely been here a minute.”
“Yeah, I know. Such a bummer, but…something came up.”
“Everything alright, Bryan?”
“Yeah yeah, everything’s fine. I just need to…I gotta go.”
“Alright, well, get home safe, bud.”
I give a sorry excuse for a smile and head for the door.
What am I supposed to do other than keep trying to avoid him? Tell him the truth? That I’ve made new friends and don’t need him now? It’s nothing personal, I just never really enjoyed our time together, and that’s become apparent now that I’ve found others that I truly connect with. Sure, that would go well.
At the door, I find the dirty bag of mixed shoes and search for mine. I can’t believe Jen made everyone put their shoes in a God-damn garbage bag, as if we’re going to go hit up a homeless shelter after the party and donate them. It’s bad enough we had to take them off to begin with.
“I’m not letting you bring any a’ that nasty shit from outside in,” she said, referring to the slushy streets, still a mess from yesterday’s snowstorm.
Rummaging through the bag, I see her point. One by one, my hands hit dirty shoe after dirty shoe, finding nothing but mud. After hitting the tenth black pair of boots that look like mine but aren’t, I lose my patience, push the bag back against the wall, dip into the bathroom, wash everyone else’s boot-stains off my hands, turn back towards the party, and look for Jen.
“Hey,” I say, tapping her shoulder and butting into her “conversation” with Harrison, who hits on everyone. “Is there only one bag holding all the shoes or do you have more hidden somewhere else?”
“What?” she says, giving me a glance instead of her attention.
“The shoes, Jen. Where are everyone’s shoes?”
“They should all be in that garbage bag by the door if everyone took theirs off like I asked.”
“Well, mine aren’t in there.”
“You trying to leave?” Harrison asks, his smirk wider than his waist.
“Trying to, yeah.”
“My ex left his flip flops here if you wanna use those,” Jen says. “Was gonna throw them out anyway.”
A torrent of snow blocks my view of the window behind them.
“Yeah, I don’t think I’m gonna make it very far through that in flip flops.”
“I don’t know what to tell you then.”
“Thanks anyway,” I say.
With no desire to put my hands back in any garbage bags, I head for the kitchen and aim them at the brownest bottle I can find instead. I usually try not to drink at places like this—you know, places where you have to make your own drinks, houses and the like. I tend to have a hard time measuring the—in this case—whiskey and end up adding enough to make two drinks feel like ten, which isn’t really ideal. In this case, though, I did try and leave, so the onus of responsibility has pretty much left me at this point.
Back in the living room, I take to the nearest window, rest my elbow on the edge, and stare out into the night as the music moves me. I sway and stare and sip and sink and at some point manage to refill my drink. From here I can see everyone, while no one sees me.
I take another sip and look out over the crowd. There’s Harrison, now hitting on Emily, to her discomfort. Then Emily, peeking around Harrison, over to Kirk, with an intensity that says take me, to his ignorance. Then Kirk, talking to Casey, his mouth moving so slow you’d think it was filled with peanut butter, to her annoyance. Then Casey, looking at the window next to me, hoping to jump out of it, to its disapproval. And finally, Dan, heading my way, his smile beaming so bright I worry I might go blind, to my disdain.
“Thought you were leaving?” he asks.
“Thought I was too,” I say, listening to my own words—checking for slurs. “But it seems as if someone’s stolen my shoes.”
“Why would anyone steal your shoes?”
“I don’t know, Dan, why would they?”
Back when we were kids, in the days of “play-dates,” I’d often find I “left” something at his house after visiting, giving me no choice but to return later and pick up what he “found.” It wasn’t until I went on a real date and pulled the same stunt that I grew suspicious of Dan’s actions.
“Maybe they didn’t want you to leave?” he suggests, my suspicions confirmed.
“Well,” I say, “petty theft certainly isn’t the way to make someone stay.”
“So, what are you gonna do?”
“Well, I’m not gonna walk through the snow in my socks, that’s for sure.”
“Well,” he says, considering me, “I’m glad you stayed.”
“Are you now?”
“Yeah. It’s been a while. I’ve missed you.”
“It’s been days, Dan. Days.”
“What does that mean?”
“Nooothing,” I say, clearly slurring now. “Listen, man, I gotta go.”
Dan puts his hand on my shoulder, stopping me mid-step.
“You can’t,” he says. “Remember? Someone stole your shoes.”
“Who steals a shoe?” I ask in my best Austin Powers impersonation. “Honestly!”
Back in the day, he would have laughed at this—we used to watch movies like that all time—but now he just stares at me.
“Not funny?” I ask.
“Tell me what you meant, Bryan.”
This is not the Dan I’m used to, so in control, so commanding.
“All I meant was that I just saw you the other day.”
“I don’t really think crossing paths on the street counts as seeing someone.”
“Okay, but we have seen each other.”
“Have we? Every time I see you lately…it’s like, the sooner you can get away from me, the better. You look at me like I’m one of your crazy exes or something.” He takes a swig from his drink. “When’s the last time we really talked? Ya know, like we used to.”
“We talked just earlier!” I exclaim, losing my handle on the volume bar.
“No,” he says, shaking his head like a disappointed mother. “I talked. You pretended to listen. And then you cut me off and tried to leave. Like you did just a minute ago.”
My cup crunches against the strength of my grip and a few drops of what’s inside hit my skin.
“Dan,” I say, “where’s this coming from?”
“That’s what I’m asking. I feel like you’ve been trying to ghost me or something lately. You’re always so aloof.”
“Oh, so you have been getting my hints.”
“You know what,” he says, “fine. I don’t know what I did to you, but if you don’t want to be friends anymore—fine. I’ll stop pretending like I know you.”
“Dan wait…I’m sorry, that was shitty of me to say.”
“And I”—my drink races up from my stomach, but I swallow it back down—“I just don’t want you to go away thinking I’m this huge piece of shit. Like I hate you or something. When I don’t.”
“But you don’t want to be friends anymore.”
“So, you don’t hate me, but you don’t want to see me.”
“I mean, it’s nothing against you personally.”
“That makes no fucking sense. I’m the subject! How can it not be personal?”
“Because I don’t have any negative feelings towards you! I just—”
“Just what? Jesus Christ, stop being a pussy and just spit it out.”
In ten years of knowing Dan, I have never heard him talk this way before. What type of strange fever dream is this?
“I’m just bored of you, man,” I say. “Okay?”
Suddenly, he starts laughing, and I find myself trembling over someone who was always beneath me.
“That’s fucking rich.”
“Come on, man, you know we were never really that close.”
“Well, I mean, we were, but…looking back, I feel like the only connection we really had was that we were both lonely. And we bonded over that shared loneliness. But there was never really much more. Ya know? Our personalities just don’t mesh that well. We never had that kind of camaraderie—that kind of happiness. We just had pain. And sharing that made it seem less.”
He snorts, rolling his eyes.
“Hell of an analysis from a man who can barely keep both feet still. What is it you’re even trying to say? That you found new friends? Better friends? People who mesh with you?”
“Well, yeah. And I’m happy now. Because it’s real.”
“Well, I’m glad,” he says, spitting his words at me. “I’m glad you found some real friends. I’m glad you don’t have to waste your time with my lame ass anymore.”
“Did you ever think that maybe the reason we didn’t mesh well is because you’re just an asshole?”
“You don’t like anyone. Who did you find that you connect with, huh? Are they here? Where’s this Kevlar cavalry that you mesh so well with? ‘Cause all I’ve seen so far this night is you standing alone in the corner—”
“I wasn’t in the corner,” I say.
“—drinking yourself to death. You have this fucked-up fantasy that everyone’s in as much pain as you are. That we’re all suffering the same as you. And maybe some of us are. But you choose to suffer. You feed on it. You refuse to let anyone else in. We weren’t friends ‘cause we were ‘both lonely.’ I mean, jeez. You know I had other friends, right? Yeah, you were my best—I loved hanging out with you—but I certainly wasn’t spending time with you because I was lonely. For Christ’s sake, Bryan, we’ve been friends since we were thirteen. Is your memory really that we were just a couple sad sacks a’ shit?”
“Dan,” I say, hiccupping. It feels like I just threw-up from the outside in. “You’re blowing things way out of proportion.”
“You should leave. I’m not taking care of you if you start feeling sick.”
“I’m fiiine. Relaaax.”
“Gimme that,” he says, taking my drink. “Jen’s gonna kill you if she sees you spill anymore on the floor.”
“Dude, what the fuck?”
He’s acting like I’m on my tenth drink or something.
“Go home, Bryan. Please.”
“I can’t. Remember? My shoes?”
He walks away and when he comes back his shoes are in my chest.
“Here,” he says.
“Dan, come on now.”
“You wanted to leave, right? Here’s your way out.”
“How will I get these back to you? I’m not even sure where you live now.”
“Keep them. Or toss them. I don’t care. Just leave.”
“Alright, fine. Damn.”
At the door, I flop to the floor and slide Dan’s boots onto my too-small feet. My hands pull at the tongue and I force the laces together to keep it in place. And then I just sit…and sit, looking to the empty wall across from me for answers while I dream of sleep. But then the world comes back to me and I shuffle out of my stupor, struggle up onto my feet, and walk out the door.
The streets, sidewalk, and everything in between is white. I waddle and wade through the blizzard like a big, unabashed penguin. With each step I take, my feet disappear, and I make it a little bit closer to somewhere—hopefully, home.
Turning onto 2nd, I stop to look around. This city is lifeless. The road goes on and on and on without any cars rolling over it, without any horns blaring. With what little tire marks remain, the street is an endless, sterling sheet of marble. The shops are all closed; every door is dark. I’m walking down the most grandiose hallway, with a window to the sky, and no end in sight.
Where are all the people? What are they all doing? What am I doing? Where am I?
I move onward.
Five—or maybe fifty—blocks later, the sidewalk starts to show as the snow stops. I lunge across the clear gray concrete. No longer packed with snow, my feet slide inside Dan’s boots as I plop them down clumsily with each step. If you gave me the right kind of hat, I’d look just like Goofy.
The moon comes into view and my heel hits something slick. My arms spread out wide but catch nothing. Instead, my back hits the concrete and all the air inside me shoots out in a single huff. I want to get up, but it feels like my bones might pop right out of my skin if I continue, so I stop, fall back, close my eyes, and wait for sleep.